- Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume, and: Subverting Greed: Religious Perspectives on the Global Economy
The Buddha's second noble truth diagnoses the cause of suffering as desire, understood as a mental state of greed or clinging attachment that in turn leads to grasping. The mind that wants to find lasting satisfaction by grasping at objects of desire, the Buddha said, is doomed to dissatisfaction because the very nature of conditioned existence frustrates permanent pleasure. The monkey-mind keeps clinging desperately to the banana in the cage even as that clinging itself traps the hand that grasps. To let go, to escape suffering through an insight into the structural nature of the cage, the fruit, and the grasping hand, seems beyond the monkey's abilities until, chastened by the seemingly endless lack of satisfaction and wishing to emerge into a state of freedom, the monkey enters the path and trains his mind to recognize the true causes of his frustration.
The teachings of the Buddha have been understood, for the past 2,500 years, as a therapy of desire. The analysis of suffering and its causes in the confused and clinging minds of ordinary sentient beings, and the prescription of a path of training to uproot those causes and thereby free the mind from suffering, have been presented as a perennial psychospiritual system of training responding to [End Page 179] the afflicted condition of every sentient being's mind regardless of culture, language, or economic system. But what happens, asks Santikaro, the American meditation teacher and disciple of Achaan Buddhadasa, in his essay in Hooked!, when this psychological inquiry is taking place in a social context marked by the deliberate and systematic exacerbation of desire, as in the contemporary period of consumerist capitalism? This question might be taken as a kind of koan to be read between the lines in all of the essays in this compelling, darkly humorous, and inspiring book: is liberation possible under capitalism? Even the Buddha's teachings can be commodified, Thubten Chodron points out in her essay, with examples ranging from the advertising hype on posters for the highest yoga tantra initiations by visiting Tibetan lamas to the high prices charged at many retreat centers and the commercial mindsets of Buddhist students wanting the biggest bang for their buck when they come to teachings or retreats. Even socially engaged Buddhist activists surf the web looking for bargains between news flashes on the latest imperial wars, as Diana Winston ruefully and comically recounts in her piece, "You Are What You Download." It seems that we are in danger of becoming a population of "hungry ghosts," the mythical beings of Buddhist cosmology whose tiny mouths cannot possibly consume enough food and drink to slake the voracious hungers and thirsts of their enormous bellies.
The essays in Hooked! range widely across themes and vary greatly in styles. The text moves from the personal memoir of Winston to the meditation teachings of Pema Chodron, the philosophical inquiries into time of David Loy, descriptions of social change movements in Thailand by Pracha Hutanuwatr and Jane Rasbash, green power in contemporary Japan, essays on generosity in Zen monastic training and gift-based economies, young Buddhists' shopping habits, and much more. But all of the authors seem to agree with the recognition that, under capitalism, the problem of desire, greed, and attachment is exponentially more acute than in traditional societies, dwelling as we do in an environment that is antithetical to the very idea of a therapy for desire's overcoming. The essayists also seem to agree that hope is not vain, that it is in fact still possible to follow the path of the Buddha under capitalism, but that to be effective the practice of the path needs to take seriously and fully acknowledge the effects, intra-psychically as well as socially, of the capitalist economic system. We are...